Copyright by Lois Gibson
Labeling is an effective way for some churches or people to handle those who may not agree on certain issues. By doing this, they actually turn others against or away from a fellow believer. In the book Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton, this issue is addressed. I have seen this happen to people. It has happened to me. No matter what the person in question has done, this is not what Christ would have us to do! Quoting from the book, it says that:
"The technique of labeling is used to discount a person who opposes the beliefs of a religious addict. Labeling attempts to dehumanize persons so that dismissing them or their opinions is much easier. Choosing not to address someone individually who has doubted the toxic faith, the religious addict places a blanket negative label on all who would disagree with his or her personal habits. Rather than state that John Smith has made a negative statement, the addict proclaims that there are "detractors," "traitors," or "malcontents" who would destroy the ministry or organization. The labels become rallying points under which the other followers can be moved to action to squelch a revolt. Once the label is in place, it becomes more difficult to see that person as a human with real needs and the potential for good judgment.
"...Labeling discounts and dismisses the opposition and establishes the superiority of religious addicts. It does not invite the exploration of the beliefs of others to better understand those persons; it reduces them so the victims will be better able to fall in line with other religious addicts who demand defiance against those who have been labeled. It becomes the perfect weapon to attack the enemy or defend the toxic faith system, its beliefs, and addictive practices. Labeling allows religious addicts to define truth, uphold that truth as defined, and destroy anyone who would dare to question that truth." 1
The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen also addresses this subject:
"The third method of calling forth misplaced loyalty is the threat of humiliation. This is done by publicly shaming, exposing, or threatening to remove people from the group.
"Unquestionably, there is a place for appropriate church discipline (which we will discuss later). In the abusive system, it is the fear of being exposed, humiliated or removed that insures your proper allegiance, and insulates those in authority. You can be "exposed" for asking too many questions, for disobeying the unspoken rules, or for disagreeing with authority. People are made public examples in order to send a message to those who remain. Others have phone campaigns launched against them, to warn their friends and others in the group about how "dangerous" they are." 2
Every Christian should stop and consider how they are treating others and what effect this could have on that person and even others. Have you checked into the allegations to see if they are true? Are your statements labeling that person unfairly? Are they slanderous? Are they causing others to have unwarranted bad feelings toward them? In your zeal to uphold God's Word, could you be attacking that person and their character and not the sin or perceived sin? Have you unknowingly placed yourself in the position of judge or lawgiver? Are you so quick to point out and correct the mote in your brother's eye while neglecting to examine yourself? Do you treat that person the way you would want to be treated were the roles reversed? Could your words and/or actions be ruining another's reputation? Have you perhaps lost sight of the fact that this is the same one you loved and with whom you once had fellowship? Is the love still there??
Let me end this with a word of advice and food for thought. We are all in need of God's grace. We all have done things wrong. All of us have sinned and made mistakes after our initial repentance. However, it can be easy to fall into a judging or a holier-than-thou attitude if we're not careful. God did not save us so that we could judge our fellow Christian. He did not give us his Spirit so that we could see the 'sins' of others and correct them.
Whatever happened to allowing the Holy Spirit to work in a person's life and change them? Are we going to do as the Pharisees and replace the work of the Spirit by enacting rules for all aspects of life and enforce them on our fellow Christians with a "do it or you're rebellious and lost" attitude? God will speak to a person if they are doing something wrong. This is promised to all believers. Be concerned about your own condition before setting out to 'help' another Christian in this manner. This is not to say one cannot reach out, help, or pray for someone. It does mean we should stop trying, convicting and pronouncing judgment upon them.
"Satan has erected fortresses in people's lives through incest, child abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism and countless other addictions, spiritual abuse- any way he can deceive, rob and enslave. But instead of tearing down these fortresses with truth and grace, the church has fought about the color of the hymnals. We have taught classes, built buildings, served on committees, and gone to seminars so that our leaders can feel spiritually gratified. We have spent our spiritual energy bribing our children to go to church and memorize Bible verses by promising them perfect attendance pins and trophies. We have taken each others' spiritual inventories to make sure people aren't going to movies, wearing makeup, or chewing gum in church. We have taught people prayer recipes and formulas. If this is really our job, we are truly spiritually overdressed.
"Have we lost our focus? Have we left behind our true job of leading people into the grace and real empowerment that comes from dwelling simply, honestly, closely with God? Do we keep adding to the "good news" until it's not good anymore?
"We believe this is so." 3
And I, and countless others who have been involved in performance based churches, can testify to this fact.
1 Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton, Toxic Faith (Nashville: Oliver Nelson, 1991), 184, 185, 188.
2 David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1991), 77, 78.
3 Ibid, 204.
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August 23, 1997
Page added April 24, 2003
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